How does adding the Sprint network change the experience of one of the best Android phones around?
By now, most of us know the story on the Galaxy S7. Samsung really doubled down on everything that made its 2015 flagships great, while fixing a few of the main pain points like battery life, expandable storage and waterproofing. And since you can get the same basic Galaxy S7 from just about any carrier in the U.S., each one is trying to do things a little different to get customers in the door.
Thankfully for us the carriers haven't customized the hardware on the Galaxy S7, and Sprint in particular didn't even put its name or logo on the phone. Obviously the software differs slightly between the carriers, as do the pre-installed apps, but what really differentiates them is their offerings in terms of network, features and pricing.
If you haven't done so already, it's worth reading our complete Galaxy S7 review for the full take on the phone, regardless of which carrier you choose to go with. Beyond that, I've spent a couple weeks with the Sprint version of the Galaxy S7, seeing how it differs from the other carrier versions and where Sprint has made changes to try and differentiate itself. Here are all the details.
In terms of superfluous changes to the software, Sprint has changed very little on the Galaxy S7. Its setup process doesn't include a bunch of extra steps trying to up-sell you on features, which is refreshing. The settings menu is completely standard, aside from the few changes necessary for a Sprint device in terms of activation and managing the CDMA network. You'll also find that you have no access to any of the deep cellular network settings, and there's a new top-level settings entry for Wi-Fi calling.
Sprint also does something else the right way, as it doesn't bake all of its pre-installed bloatware into the system. Instead, it triggers a download of a suite of apps once you've set up your phone on Wi-Fi. As you'll see, that means you can uninstall a good portion of the bloatware on the phone.
Sprint's slate of pre-installed apps (call 'em bloat, call 'em whatever you want) come down to three categories: Sprint's own first-party apps, third-party partner apps, and third-party stub "apps" that are simply shortcuts to the Play Store:
- First-party apps: App Spotlight, Sprint Fun & Games, Sprint Voicemail, Sprint Zone, Tech Expert, Sprint TV & Movies, Sprint Music Plus, Sprint Caller ID, Sprint Wi-Fi Calling, Sprint Family Locator, Sprint App Spotlight.
- Partner apps: Amazon, Amazon Photos, Amazon Music, Amazon Kindle, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Lookout
- Stub apps: 1Weather, NextRadio
Interestingly, several of the first-party Sprint apps can be completely uninstalled, as can the two stub apps, but all of the Amazon and Facebook apps, as well as Lookout, can't be uninstalled. In total you can uninstall eight of the pre-installed apps, but the rest are there for your to either keep or simply disable.
We have to give Sprint about a half of a thumbs-up here for letting users completely uninstall a good portion of the pre-installed apps, but unfortunately the apps that aren't uninstallable are the biggest ones of the group. With just a rough calculation there's over 600MB of pre-installed apps that can't be removed, and even if you disable them they of course still take up space in the system folder. The largest offenders are the Amazon apps, of which many people are likely to use but that doesn't mean we should all be subjected to having them stuck in our phones.
Call quality and network features
When it comes to looking at network quality on phones, there are an amazing number of variables that come into play. For our purposes, the entirety of this review was conducted in the greater Seattle, WA area, so with the caveat of "this is how it is here, but maybe not where you are" these are my findings.
Call quality and Wi-Fi calling
Believe it or not, people still make voice calls. I don't really make them all that often, but in all of my testing the Galaxy S7 on Sprint handles them just fine. You don't have any additional settings to deal with in terms of toggling on HD voice. The only big downside when it comes to Sprint voice calls is the lack of simultaneous voice and data (unless you're on Wi-Fi), meaning that if you take a phone call, your data service will be suspended until the call is over. Needing voice and data at the same time may not be a big feature for most, but for those who use it often this is probably a deal breaker.
Like most other carriers, Sprint offers baked-in Wi-Fi calling support, which is useful both at home and when you're roaming abroad. Unlike T-Mobile, Sprint doesn't bother you with a persistent notification when Wi-Fi calling is turned on, and instead just uses the stock method of showing a small Wi-Fi calling icon next to the signal strength in the status bar when it's connected.
You can toggle Wi-Fi calling on or off through a quick settings button, but Sprint also installs a Wi-Fi calling shortcut in your app drawer ... which you can promptly uninstall without any effect on the feature. Calls made on Wi-Fi sound great, and the system has a nice feature of being able to choose which of your saved networks will have Wi-Fi calling enabled. For example if you often visit a restaurant or café with Wi-Fi that you use, but it's not consistent enough for calling, you can just toggle that network off.
For the past couple of years, getting Sprint phones in for review in this area was a painful experience. After being one of the early launch cities for Sprint's WiMax network, Seattle was way behind on deployment of LTE for the carrier. Today, things are leaps and bounds better, and I can actually test the Galaxy S7 on a network that's up to par with the phone.
This area is covered in Sprint's so-called LTE Plus network (a far better name than "Spark"), which means the phone can combine three different radio bands for faster speeds and better coverage. In using the phone for a couple of weeks in Seattle we didn't find a single unexpected slowdown or network hiccup, and anecdotal speed test results backed that up.
Ping times were never over 75 ms, download speeds never under 10 mbps and upload speeds never under 5 mbps were good to see, with the lowest numbers coming in the busiest days in the population-dense areas. Of course my top observed speeds were much higher than this, though Sprint seems to be configured to favor downloads heavily — downloads were as high as 80 mbps and uploads as high as 20 mbps. These are of course the numbers that differ vastly depending on where you are using the phone, and you'll know your area best based on experience and talking to friends with Sprint, but in my tests in this area Sprint has really upped its game.
On average Sprint still came up short of T-Mobile's speeds here, when compared side-by-side on the Galaxy S7, but I still don't have a single thing to complain about in terms of data speeds in our testing.
Pricing and financing options
Perhaps the most confusing aspect of buying a Galaxy S7 (or any phone, really) on Sprint is its pricing scheme. If you're already a Sprint customer things are a tad better, but no matter the case Sprint offers multiple ways to buy the Galaxy S7 and it's not always immediately clear which one is the best for people.
Off-contract / two-year contract
I'll get the simplest purchasing options out of the way first. You can buy the Galaxy S7 off-contract outright for $649 — you'll need service, of course, but you won't be on the hook for any phone payments thereafter. You can also sign up for a traditional (and antiquated) two-year contract term and get the phone for $199 ... after a mail-in rebate. Most folks shouldn't go with a two-year contract at this point, but hey, it's an option if you want it.
Then there are the financing options, where Sprint has two more buying choices that look similar but really aren't. You can pay 24 months of "installments," but you can also pay for a 24 month "lease" of the phone, and both land within about a dollar per month of one another. Here's the distinction:
With the 24 month "installment" option, you're just getting a basic 0% interest financing of the phone, as you can get with other carriers. You pay nothing up front, and simply make 24 equal payments — in this case $27.09 — to pay the same amount as the off-contract phone, $649. If you have low or no credit, you'll have to pay $150 up-front and then the remaining $499 over 24 payments of $20.84. You can pay off the phone at any time, and you're free to sell or continue to use it after that.
'Galaxy Forever' lease
Then you have the 24 month "lease" option, which also ties into Sprint's "Galaxy Forever" promotion. With the lease option, you pay the same $0 or $150 up front (depending on credit) and a slightly lower monthly cost of $25.99 or $19.74, respectively. The total cost over two years adds up to a lower $623.76, but there's a huge difference here: Sprint still owns the phone for the whole duration of the lease, so unlike the installment plan you don't have an option to pay off the phone or do with it what you want.
The trade-off is having the option to return the device to Sprint — in good, working order — after 12 months in exchange for a brand new phone. With its other devices this usually costs an additional $10 per month, but because the Galaxy S7 is a "Galaxy Forever" device you don't have to pay that additional fee — just make 12 normal monthly lease payments, or $311.88, and you'll be able to upgrade to the next flagship Galaxy phone.
As is the case with leases of all kinds, the Galaxy S7 lease from Sprint isn't what you'd call a good deal. But it is a convenient one, so long as you want to upgrade every 12 months. Paying $25.99 per month to Sprint and getting a brand new phone every year, without dealing with extra fees or trying to re-sell your used phone (Sprint phones don't command high resale prices), is appealing. But remember, you really have to want that upgrade every year. Every month that you don't upgrade, you're just paying money to a lost cause, since Sprint owns the phone and you have to return it at the end of the lease period, or pay to retain the phone after 24 months.
For the sake of completeness, here's how pricing breaks down for the larger (and more expensive) Galaxy S7 edge:
- Off-contract: $749
- Two-year contract: $299
- 24 mo. installments: $0 down + $31.25/mo. or $200 down + $22.92/mo.
- 24 mo. lease: $0 down + $30.50/mo. or $200 down + $22.17/mo.
The bottom line
As has been the case when we look at carrier-customized versions of this phone, the best part about them is that you get nearly the same great experience of using a Galaxy S7 no matter what. But of course that also means that subtle changes to the experience in terms of network and software can make or break your decision of choosing another carrier — as can the pricing and financing options.
Overall, Sprint respects Samsung's vision for the Galaxy S7 pretty well. The carrier doesn't put its logo or name on the phone, doesn't add too many software changes, you can actually uninstall a good amount of the bloat, and its Wi-Fi calling is baked right into the system. While the decision about whether or not the Sprint network is good where you need it to be is completely personal, I came away impressed by how much the network has improved where I live and how nicely consistent the data speeds and call quality were.
Assuming the network works for you, the only thing that's going to be confusing in this decision is the pricing model. The "Galaxy Forever" promotion sounds pretty great, but when you look deeper you realize it's not going to save you any money. Having a two-year contract option also sounds enticing, but isn't the best choice for most people. If you can sit down with a calculator and decide how to pay for the phone, give it a look.
- Galaxy S7 review
- Galaxy S7 edge review
- U.S. unlocked Galaxy S7
- Should you upgrade to the Galaxy S7?
- Best SD cards for Galaxy S7
- Join our Galaxy S7 forums